What are the barriers?
We asked four women life scientist entrepreneurs the greatest barriers that women face in their industry when starting a business. Their top barriers, described by 3 out of the 4 women, were:
- Being unable to secure funding and not enough funding for female-led businesses. One said that women are “often at a disadvantage when competing against male peers.
- Not receiving validation or credibility as a woman scientist having the potential to succeed as an entrepreneur. Even being discouraged to start a business and encouraged to join existing corporations instead.
- Time/balancing priorities, not having a mentor
In other surveys (n=14) women life scientists, the top barriers to entrepreneurship were:
- Low self-confidence in entrepreneurial abilities/Low level of experience and skills in business (how to set up a business, hire the right people, know what money to take)
- Financial risk aversion
- Not the right time in their career, family, or financial situation
- Not being included in established networking organizations
- Lacking credentials that would impress investors, such as leadership positions
- Lacking interest in business
How can women change or go around barriers to entrepreneurship for women life scientists?
Several barriers involve skills that can be developed via training and experience. Alternatively, if it’s a skill that you don’t need every day, you can hire someone to handle it.
We asked life sciences entrepreneurs how to address the other barriers for women to being biotech entrepreneurs. Here are their responses:
Tip: Reframe barriers as challenges and opportunities.
- For example, for the difficulty of finding childcare when you work long hours, instead of viewing the responsibility for childcare as a barrier, you can focus on how being an entrepreneur can give you the freedom to set your own schedule and even have your child’s daycare at your place of business.
Tip: Developing and using the skills that are widely recognized as important for entrepreneurial success can help you overcome barriers. For example:
- Show leadership ability: Show an ability to inspire and execute.
- Find a strong motivation. What is your passion? Entrepreneurship can mean making a difference, doing good, not just acquiring more money.
- Learn excellent communications skills, including negotiation skills before you need them.
- Be willing to work hard.
Tip: Consider looking for a woman mentor and women partners:
- A group of women graduate students in the life sciences described their mentoring and networking experiences with women entrepreneurs and more advanced scientists as their most helpful mentoring and networking experiences.
- Some women feel uncomfortable being the only woman in a workplace. One advantage to founding your own company is that you can decide to have women partners and hire women to work for you.
The Barrier a Stereotype That Entrepreneurship as Masculine
Especially in the past, some people have held a stereotype of entrepreneurship requiring an approach they defined as “masculine” and so were biased against women entrepreneurs. In response, some women tried to act like that “masculine” entrepreneur ideal or worked harder than their male counterparts in order to overcome barriers they encountered that were caused by the stereotype. However, the stories of real-life successful entrepreneurs dispel the myth that only one personality type or gender can succeed. Alternative responses to barriers caused by this bias include:
- If you hold this stereotype yourself, become more familiar with the many different women who are successful leaders in biotech and rebuild your idea of what entrepreneurial success requires. You can develop a more accurate internal model of successful entrepreneurship, one that is both effective and congruent with your self-identity. Focus on the skills needed rather than gender stereotypes. Highlight the strengths you have and get help with your weaker areas. Skills associated with entrepreneurial success that are not part of your natural bent can be learned in a way that fits your personal style (assertiveness, negotiation skills, internal locus of control).
- If you encounter others acting according to this stereotype of entreprepreneurship being only masculine, you can bring attention to the stereotype and challenge it, document unfair decisions and actions based on the stereotype, and request change.